Column, and an update from Lisbon

Yesterday's lunch

Bom dia from Lisbon. Those are two of the only four words I know in Portuguese. The others are yes (sim) and thank you (obrigado). I don’t even know goodbye so I keep muttering ‘adios’ in Spanish as I leave a shop or a restaurant and hope they get the gist. Everyone speaks perfect English here, apparently in part because they don’t dub English and American television. They subtitle it. Being met with such perfect English has made me even more embarrassed to come from a country that is sticking two fingers up at cities as wonderful this. I went on a guided walking tour three days ago, various nationalities among us, and the Brits were the butt of all the jokes. It serves us right but it felt galling when there were a couple of Americans in the group wearing white sports socks pulled halfway up their calves.

Anyway, I’ve had a ball. I’ve wanted to come here for ages and decided to take a week out from London to finish the final edit on What Happens Now and start writing notes for book three. Fortunately, between bouts of work, I’ve managed to fit in circa 64m calories. Mostly food – custard tarts, Portuguese cheese, salted cod, pork sandwiches, grilled squid, grilled octopus, toasta mista (a brioche sandwich of cheese and ham), more cheese, more custard tarts and the most insane fruits that actually taste of fruit. A few wines too. All Portuguese. Vinho Verde is a sort of Portuguese wine white but made with younger grapes – maybe? I’m not sure but I’ve drunk glasses and glasses of it. I had a couple tonight and then went to mass in Lisbon Cathedral which went mostly over my head since none of my four Portuguese words cropped up much and the homily dragged on a bit. But at least it was an hour when I couldn’t eat. Tomorrow it’s off to Sintra, a Portuguese town with a very Chitty Chitty Bang Bang castle so I’d better go to sleep since I’m up early.

Column below.

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‘Booze is poison,’ tweeted Chrissy Teigen, American model and Empress of Twitter, after a heavy night at the Oscars last Sunday. ‘I hereby go sober for at least the week.’

I had sympathy with Chrissy since I overdid it myself last weekend. It was my friend Laura’s wedding, a spectacular party which involved alpacas, tequila and some lamentable dancing, although fortunately not all at the same time. But I woke the following morning with one of my top five hangovers. I was sharing a hotel room with another pal, Katie, who was packing her dress and making noises about heading to breakfast. But I felt like poor old Dixon in Lucky Jim.

‘His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad,’ wrote Kingsley Amis.

I also felt bad. Sometimes, life throws you a curveball, doesn’t it? You assume you’re an adult who can tie your own shoelaces, but then, BANG! You go to a party and forget everything you’ve learned about drinking. You regress to a teenage state and pour red wine on top of 93 glasses of champagne and then lob in a few margaritas for good measure.

‘Christ, what did I say?’ I wondered, as I lay in bed, curling my fingers under the duvet just to check they were still with me. ‘What did I do?’ And the flashbacks! A brief memory, like a shard of glass piercing the brain, of strumming an air guitar to Bon Jovi. Oh God. And there’s usually evidence, these days. Some pillock always has their phone on the dancefloor and immortalizes the worst bits.

How to handle a hangover of this magnitude? Does one openly admit to it like Chrissy, and embrace the sense of shame beating at the jugular? Or do you suffer quietly, knock up a Jeeves-like creation of raw egg and Worcestershire sauce and pretend you feel chipper even though you suspect it could be your last day on Earth?

I owned up because I believe there is (some) honour in that. Alright, you embarrassed yourself. You flirted ineptly over dinner, you thrust your pelvis at the father-of-the-bride while the band played Abba, you stashed your heels under a table and had to spend the last half an hour or the party crawling through tablecloths trying to find them again, to pick a few entirely fictional examples. But pretending that you behaved perfectly is more shameful because people know. They will remind you.

I limped to breakfast behind Katie, but it was an assault course to our table. ‘You were on great form!’ said other wedding guests, beaming knowingly. ‘Yes, thank you, thank you,’ I repeated, sheepishly, as I passed each one, ‘I’m available for hire. Children’s parties, anniversaries, whatever you need.’

Breakfast was not a success. I sipped at sugary tea but excused myself shortly afterwards and retreat back to our room, collapsing on my bed with my shoes still on, murmuring goodbyes like a wounded soldier.

All in all, it was a dazzling display of feebleness until Fleet Services on the M3, where I made Katie stop so I could buy a Coca Cola. It perked me up instantly and I was able to look at the photos and videos which had started doing the rounds on WhatsApp. You’ve got to accept defeat and laugh at such moments because next time, it’ll be someone else. Next time, you might try a glass of water.

***

Something’s afoot in Derbyshire. A three-month sexual health campaign called Jiggle, Wiggle has been launched by the local NHS, aimed at the over-60s and their ‘soaring’ STI rate. Free condoms are being given out to this age group – perhaps in the Chatsworth gift shop – to try and combat the issue. I’m all for this. If you’re exhilarated by the majesty of the county (all those peaks?) and feel inclined, then bravo. Crack on. But I have a problem with the campaign name. Jiggle, Wiggle is not only nonsensical and puerile, but it sounds like something you’d have to sit through with a grandchild on CBeebies. This is how we end up with boats called Boaty McBoatface. Can institutions like the NHS set an example, please, and not give into such patronising infantilism?

***

I watched two episodes of Netflix’s new series about the American serial killer Ted Bundy the other evening, only to have nightmares afterwards about a strange man creeping into my bedroom (brave chap). Apparently it’s happening to lots of us – 42 percent of Brits now sleep with a light on because of the rise in grisly TV dramas such as Luther, so says a new survey. But it didn’t occur to me to flick my lamp on. I staggered to the bathroom for a restorative wee and went back to sleep untroubled because I’m not five-years-old and know that the only horrors lurking under my bed are crusty old earplugs. I simply haven’t watched any more Ted Bundy. If you’re so badly afflicted you need a night light, give up crime shows and try something else. The Great British Sewing Bee is back on BBC Two. No murders (so far) in that.

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